Monday, December 17, 2007

Long time no blog!

Can you believe hubby and I are still sick? Me either. Hubby's had a "put you to sleep" kind of medical test, and we are waiting on those results. Me? Sinus infection that hasn't cleared up (even to the point where I can sleep at night) after 7+ days of sulfa! I'm ready to feel better now.

Every year I get it in my head that homemade gifts are nice, and I find a project to do for the "outer" relatives. You know, the grandparents and inlaws and aunts. This year I'm doing two projects: hand lotion and family videos.

The family videos have been on VHS since 1990 when we got our first video camera. It's time they joined us in the digital age, so I've been transferring them to DVD. But not a straight-across transfer, oh no. I am editing and adding titles, a project I should have started in May to get done by Christmas! I was doing okay getting them all done, then the second master disc (of 5) died suddenly from child abuse (abuse by the children, not of them) and had to be recreated. 5 discs, 2 hours each, edited and titled. We are talking no small feat here, considering I didn't start until after Thanksgiving and have had all kinds of other issues going on, eh?

The hand lotion is something that's been in my head and kitchen in test batches for nearly 5 years. While studying herbal medicine, I found some herbs and oils particularly suited to the skin care needs of older hands. Combining those herbs with others for this aunt's thin, easily torn skin, and that grandma's perpetually cold hands, and the other grandma's arthritis, finding the right formulation to lighten age spots, and then perfect the lotion to where it's light and non-greasy has been a real challenge, but a lot of fun. I finally got the formula exactly right and made the "gift" batch last week. OH NO! One of my ingredients was purchased from a different source than usual and was much stronger! The lotion still works, but it turns skin brownish purple! AARGH! I didn't throw away the whole batch because I don't care if my feet are brownish purple, and it's a temporary effect anyway. But, I have to start over from scratch, AFTER the mail order of one irreplaceable ingredient arrives. If it arrives in time.

I'm beginning to rethink the homemade gift thing.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Homeschool Buyer Co-op

The Homeschool Buyer Co-op is a free homeschooling organization for both new and veteran homeschoolers. Co-op membership is free and confidential, and entitles homeschooling families to discounts from hundreds of educational suppliers. The Co-op also sponsors "Group Buys" for curriculum packages that can save homeschooling families lots of money. On the site you'll find lots of free information, such as databases of free curriculum, field trips, and educational contests and scholarships.

There are different discounts on a wide range of goods and services. A couple of the discounts we have enjoyed include:

The Entertainment 2008 book for our area. I get one anyway, but saved a little chunk of the price, plus got points for the purchase that I can use to get discounts on still other products.

God's World magazines are something we love to use, but the price is prohibitive. With our group buy, we are getting them for half-price. This is particularly a good investment with the upcoming election year.

The Homeschool Buyer Co-op also participates in eScrip. Scrip is a wonderful way to support local schools and charities with very little time investment. Most programs require a separate scrip purchase. For example, I use scrip to support my local high school. I put a certain dollar amount on a grocery gift card provided by the high school, then use that gift card to pay for my purchases at that grocery store. It only takes a minute or two to add money to the gift card, and it's a whole lot easier than selling candy, gift wrap or magazines to support the school.

But eScrip is even more elegant, using cyber technology to track purchases made with my grocery loyalty card instead of a separate gift card. I look forward to when more stores are added.

All in all, the Homeschool Buyer Co-op is a great organization, and is continuing to grow and diversify as it matures. Well worth a stop by!

Click here for more information.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

In the meadow, we can build a B&M

We lived in a sleepy little burg of 1000 before moving here. I used to go every Black Friday to the nearest town (of 10,000 people!) to do all my holiday shopping on one day and loved it. My mom and sister would give me their lists for us and I'd buy their gifts too, so they didn't have to ship cross-country.

I'm seriously scared to go to the malls or larger stores here. Too close to the city, too many people, and too many stories on the news of people getting pushed and trampled. If I get pushed, I fall over and I've hurt people too many times falling down and the cane going flying. Too dangerous.

But I miss going. It's really where the holiday season starts for me. So, I set the alarm for 4AM and gave it a shot. I drove past Best Buy at 5AM, and saw the line outside was all the way around the building. Hm. Not for me.

At Shoe Carnival they greeted me with a $10 gift card and a buy-one-get-one-half-price offer, so I got slippers for hubby and me. Not gifts, we need them NOW!

The fitted sheet on my bed has bit the dust, but the rest of the set was fine, so I toodled over to Bed, Bath and Beyond at 6 when they opened for a really nice replacement. I can't afford $100 for a set of sheets, but I can afford $25 for a really nice single fitted sheet (especially with a 20% off coupon!) I picked up a charging station there, too so hubby would stop losing his cell phone charger. That can wait to be a gift, I guess.

I dropped by Joann for some pillow forms at 50% off so I can get started making some special pillows for the kids (I'm taking their old special event T-shirts, iron-on-ing a photo of them on the back, then turning the outgrown shirts into pillows as keepsakes). I grabbed some crochet kits and a soapmaking kit (that's the one I used the 50% off coupon on) so they can make gifts for their friends.

At the Christian store I got all gifts: the kids some new music (Switchfoot, Mercy Me, Barlowgirl, etc.) and the new holiday CD by Jars of Clay. They had a 20% off coupon and a BIG cup of hot cider for me at the door. Aaah.

Best Buy was my last stop where I got some DVDs, a Wii game and my gift to hubby: a supercool computerized remote to control all our living room gadgets. We joke about our 7 remotes, but it's becoming ridiculous. When we switched from cable to sat TV he was saying he didn't like the new remote, so it's as good a time as any to consolidate. All of this stuff will be gifted.

Later, in the afternoon, hubby took us to Books a Million and Target. I didn't find anything in either store I can't beat the price on online. But, while at BAM I read up on the new Mac OS upgrade and found the gift I want to send to my oldest boy 'cuz he's da bomb!

I still have a ton of books to buy, but I can get those at Amazon much cheaper than the stores. I have money available there anyway because for the last three months I've taken my profit from my Amazon store in gift certs.

I didn't have to be up at 4AM, I didn't have to wait in long lines, but I wanted to. It kind of kick starts the holiday season for me. I didn't get but a handful of gifts, but saved more than $50 on things I needed anyway because of the special Black Friday coupons and sales.

The rest? Free shipping at online stores! YAY!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We also have crabs.

No, this isn't a health-related post. We have actual crabs. As pets. Land hermit crabs. Okay, maybe not so much as pets, but they live in an aquarium in our house.

They're really pretty cool, but they are a lot more work and expense than the info sheets at the pet store would have you believe.

Right now we have a total of 10 crabs:

4 purple pinchers (Coenobita clypeatus): Leia Clawgana Solo, Luke Sandwalker, Obi Wan Crabobi, Yoda

2 ruggies (Coenobita rugosus): Chewbacca the Ruggie, Han Solo

3 equadorians (Coenobita compressus): C3PO, R2D2, Wicket

1 strawberry (Coenobita perlatus): Darth Maul

We have also had a second strawberry, Depa Billba, who died after a complicated moult and a purple pincher we named Anakin Sandwalker, who died from post-purchase stress syndrome. They are buried in the front yard with the appropriate grave markers (an empty shell filled with tiny artificial flowers.)

Here are some photos:

A crab peeking out from behind the logLeia, Han and Wicket discuss the benefits of their particular species

This is a shell fight. There were no injuries, and the offender was moved to isolation for about 24 hours during which he calmed down. When returned to the general population, he ceased threatening others.

Ah, the elusive Darth Maul. Contrary to his character in the movie, our Darth is very shy.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Aw, whatabunchasweeties!

My girls decided I needed a "date" night with hubby, so they planned a dinner for us. They got all the necessary groceries during our last trip, set the table, even used plastic dinnerware so they could do the dishes all by themselves. We had Happle Bagel Sandwiches (half a bagel, topped with cheddar cheese, a slice of tart apple and a sprinkling of cinnamon, broiled), homemade chili con carne, yogurt crunch (plain yogurt mixed together with granola and chocolate chips) and Bananaoids (frozen chocolate-dipped bananas) and "wine" (grape juice). It was wonderful. Food always tastes better when prepared by someone else! They did a lovely job of decorating, too. Rosie made place cards, and Christie set the table. Kate was the chili cook and oversaw the operation.

Hubby and I had such a lovely time on our date that we decided to continue it the next night! We left the kids in Blair's capable supervision and went to see Dan In Real Life. It was so refreshing to see kids being respectful of their parents, yet still being kids; grown children and parents interacting intelligently; smart adults making very human mistakes and owning up to them; and it was all done without sex, violence or language. I really enjoyed this movie.

Hm. If Steve Carrell isn't careful he's going to keep on making good movies like this and Evan Almighty and get noticed by Christians. That'll pretty much be the end of his career.

In new news, John, the one child of mine who very, very rarely gets ill, has developed a fever today. This is a new bug entirely, the cough and tummy problems we've dealt with so far this autumn didn't include fever. Oh, and I've got the cough.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Cold Comfort Lunch

We're still fighting this cough thing. Now Blair says her upper teeth hurt when she bites down—a sinus infection? So, I dug out my nutritional materia medica and tossed together this lunch yesterday:

Cold Comfort Lunch
Chop 2 garlic cloves, set aside. Cook a pound of orzo in a quart of boiling vegetable broth for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and let it absorb the moisture while it cools. While that's all going on, chop a small onion, six shiitake mushrooms and eight green beans into tiny bites. Steam those with the garlic for 5 minutes, drain. Toss the veggies in a large bowl. Drain the orzo and add that to the bowl. In the pan you steamed the veggies over medium heat, toss 1/4 cup of pine nuts until toasty and light brown, but don't let them sit or they'll burn. Add those to the bowl. Strip the leaves from eight or nine stalks of fresh thyme, grate 2 carrots and add the thyme leaves and carrots to the bowl. In a separate small bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of vegetable broth and 1/4 cup raisins. Add that in and toss all together. Serve with a little parmesan on top.

Garlic and onion are prized for their immune-boosting and infection-killing abilities. Shiitake mushrooms have antiviral properties. Thyme is a miracle worker when it comes to calming coughs (we have a bowl of boiling water with thyme for the kids to "tent" their heads when they start coughing.) The fresh lemon juice is a great source of vitamin C, and raisins are alkaline. Orzo is filling, and the small pieces of veggies are easy to chew and nutritious, making this meal a real "comfort food" for when colds strike.

At snack time, I didn't want the kids eating a bunch of immune-suppressing sugar, but they wanted something sweet. I also wanted a big nutritional "BANG" for those who are not feeling well enough to eat a lot. So of course, I turned to sweet potatoes! Ah, all that orangy goodness. You just can almost feel the beta carotene working its wonders on you. Of course, they taste great, or they wouldn't get eaten!

I just peeled and sliced 3 large sweet potatoes in 1/8 to 1/4 inch slices and tossed them in a big bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil. Onto a pan-sprayed cookie sheet, into a 500° oven for 20 minutes, and voila! Snacktime! They were crispy on the outside and sweet and chewy on the inside. Didn't even need salt.

I wanted something for dinner that would be soothing on upset tummies, cough-suppressing and warming, but not overly filling, and this chowder fit the bill.

I call it The More (Vegetables) The Merrier Chowder

I mixed together 3 cups of vegetable stock, a large chopped onion, a tablespoon of stripped thyme leaves, a teaspoon of cumin, 2 cloves of minced garlic and got it boiling. I turned the heat down to simmer and covered it for five minutes. I stripped a cob of corn and tossed that in with a handful of frozen peas, four stalks of chopped bok choy, three stalks of chopped celery, a chopped up red bell pepper, two chopped carrots and two chopped zucchini. I let it simmer for about 15 minutes while I put the bread in the oven to warm. Now, I'm not normally a fan of white bread, but this meal just screamed out for an Italian loaf and I didn't have a whole wheat one ready. In a separate bowl, I mixed together 3 cups of milk, three tablespoons of peanut butter and a dash of Tabasco. I added that to the soup and stirred it around. It was the perfect eating temperature almost immediately. We had elderberry preserves on the bread, well, the kids did. I dunked my bread in the chowder!

Kate was still hungry after dinner and wanted something sweet, so she put together this yummmmmmmy dessert:

The Cider House Pears

Boil a cup of apple cider with a 4-inch sprig of rosemary, cover and reduce heat to simmering. Add five sliced pears and simmer five minutes. We served it with whipped cream.
Yup, that's Kate's hand!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fourth Floor Nurse's Station

One of the distinct disadvantages to having a large family is when illness strikes.

We have two bugs going around our house right now. One is a nasty tummy bug that gets worse, then better, then worse, get the idea. I've had it for 12 days, my personal cut-off time for allowing myself to get better before calling in the guns. Hubby's had it for about seven days and Blair for about two. Seeing a pattern here? Like a 5-day incubation period?

The other bug is like a cold, but not so much with the sniffles and sneezing, and big time with the cough. Rosie caught it first, today is her ninth day. She was better yesterday and I let her go outside for some fresh air and sunshine. But you can't keep a seven-year-old sitting down in fresh air and sunshine, so she was up and playing a lot. Too much. She's having quite the rebound today after not sleeping well last night for all her coughing.

Kate is in her sixth day of the coughing fits. She is pretty perky and healthy-looking during the day, but at night she keeps us all (and herself) awake with the hacking. And poor hubby's allergies have been making him crazy at night, with his head packing in after being laid down for 30 minutes or so.

Of course, they all sleep better with their heads slightly elevated, which means they all sleep in the living room. And the insomniacs make them crazy with their trips to the bathroom and kitchen until 2AM when Blair finally zonks out and starting again at 4AM when John gets up for the day!

Rosie finally gave up and crawled in bed with me this morning for a little peace and quiet. Bless her heart. She's a snuggler, though, and breathed all those lovely germs right into my face until I managed to drag myself out of bed.

In a large family, you have two sickness scenarios:

Everyone gets sick at once. That works fine if Mama stays healthy and can fetch and carry. But in 27 years mama-ing, that has only happened to me once. I find it's much more likely for Mama to get sick right along with everyone all at once. The upside to that would be everyone convalescing together, watching movies and eating soup together and no one hollering about how badly THEY need to go to the library. The downside? This Mama tends to get illnesses rather heavily, so while the children are sniffly, I come down with bronchitis and pneumonia. And do the cooking and cleaning and tending, not resting and napping, which makes the bug hold on all the longer.

Everyone gets sick, one at a time. Ah, the nickel-and-dime-you-to-death scenario. If you assume 10 days from first sniffle to last cough, times seven people in the house, you're talking a whopping two months of care-taking without a single trip to church, the movie house, or the mall. Then consider there are two "cold and flu seasons" in a year and suddenly a twelve-month year becomes one-third shorter and less efficient!

Homeschooling helps. Our public-school-attending friends are sick much more of the time than we are.

Back, five or six years ago, I took a phenomenal herbal medicine course. I learned how to make tinctures and elixirs, syrups and teas, how to grow herbs to make medicines, how to diagnose and dose, the whole nine yards. And the knowledge has served me well. I still use that information frequently. But I'm beginning to see that I need a different approach.

I am currently studying nutrition as a disease preventative. Good to know the remedies for illness, but I'd rather avoid the illness to begin with. And I'm sure it helps quite a bit, as shown by our only two small bugs a year. Oh, but I'd so like to avoid those two bugs as well.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Okay, an edit for hubby's sanity

Hubby insisted that I post a "day in the life" so you can see that there really isn't any educational neglect going on. The kids really do learn a LOT even though I'm not teaching them a lot.

I've changed our names for this blog. Rosie is my youngest, at 7. Her next older sister is Christie, 10. Next up is Kate, 12. John, age 15, isn't home much, he's our only public schooled student right now. My oldest at home is Blair, age 17. I do have a grown, married, wonderful son, Marty (27), and his wonderful wife Raye, WAYYYYY on the other side of the continent.

6:00AM What luck! (and what a great alarm clock!) It just happens to be one of my 6AM days! So, I won't put off blogging this particular day. There are ginger cookies for breakfast today, and they only take 20 minutes to bake, so John can have some before he heads off to the bus. Perhaps with enough butter and cinnamon sugar on them he might even eat one. One of my favorite trick-myself-into-making-breakfast tricks is to stir together the dry ingredients for muffins or cookies in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. I refrigerate the wet stuff and leave the dry stuff on the counter with the muffin tins or cookie sheets already pan-sprayed. In the morning, I just combine the two bowls' contents and scoop out batter into the tins. Not nearly as dangerous as really cooking in the AM.

6:45AM Cookies done and cleaned up after. Can I go back to bed now? No, no, I'm fine. I'll hop in the shower before hubby gets up to leave the bathroom available for him to get ready for work. Kids aren't up yet, except John, who leaves for the bus at 7:05. While I'm in the shower, I think about a dear friend who I want to encourage via email today and what I can say to her that will bless her.

7:18AM Out of the shower, hair more-or-less done, makeup on and readyish for the day. Another couple cups of coffee and I'll be coherent. Hubby wants to know if I made juice with the cookies. No, but I made him a quick cup of cocoa. It's chilly here today! YAY!

7:40AM Ah, that last cup of coffee downed, and the girls are starting to stir. I remind them to do their before breakfast chores (make bed, brush hair and teeth, put away PJs and bedtime books) and come up for food. Hubby decides to work at home today because he's not feeling tip top.

8:15AM Girls all fed and cleaned up after, they are doing their morning chores. I sit down to check the email. I have four books from my Amazon site to ship and one eBay sale. YAY! Prep all that shipping stuff and run it out to the mailbox.

9:00AM Done with shipping, email and other business-related work for the morning. I sit down with a cup of coffee (just one more?) to make the menus and shopping list for the week.

9:10AM Yikes. Forgot the laundry. Fold a load, washer to dryer, dirty to washer. Back to the menus. Rose is practicing the piano while Blair works with Kate on her costume for the Fall Festival at church tonight. Christie is having floor time with the guinea pigs after doing a quick clean of their cage.

9:30AM I have a basic idea of menus for the week and have written most of the ingredients I need for them, so it's off to start lunch. We're having steamed cauliflower and broccoli, chilled, with a yogurt dressing. Blair starts working with Christie on costume. Rose bakes sardine-wheat germ cookies for the neighbor's cat who just had kittens. Kate does "PE" on the trampoline.

10:15AM Blair works with Rose on her costume. Christie does "PE" on the Gazelle, Kate makes a "Sorry, no candy" sign for the front door. I check the grocery list against what's in the pantry, subtracting what we have and adding staples we need.

10:35AM We have a snack of leftover muffins and Emergen-C. Rose asks how to count "less than zero," so we have an impromptu lesson on negative numbers while Christie listens in. Kate finishes snack and goes to get a jump on her afternoon chores. Blair showers.

10:45AM All cleaned up from snack now, the kids run downstairs and grab their schoolwork they did at bedtime last night. They love working at night when it's quiet. I take a look at math papers, creatively written stories, their "Books I've Read" lists, and ideas for a science scavenger hunt.

11:10AM I compile the scavenger hunt list and send them packing. All four girls go and check off interesting things they find on their lists, collect leaves and rocks, and sketch birds they see. While it's quiet, I catch up on my home business and sort through my in box. If I can get the filing ready to do, Blair will do it during her afternoon chore time. It's also payday, so I check the account to make sure our automatic bill payments are set up and working.

12:15PM The girls come back ravenous from their adventure. We sit down to lunch and polish off the veggies. A couple of them go in search of more food (it's not lunch without a sandwich, they insist) while I help Christie do dishes. Another cha-cha-cha with the laundry and we're off to finish off the afternoon chore list. Today is "small room" day. We pick up, sweep and mop or vacuum, dust, and organize the entry way, schoolroom, laundry room, halls and stairs.

1:45PM I locate the leftover breakfast cookies and make some cardamom tea for the girls' snack. The chores are all done and we are ready to play! Blair plays on the Wii, which looks more like PE than games to me, swinging a bat, tennis racket and golf club and throwing punches. I determine the next set of plants I want to grow and hybrid in my game of "Plant Tycoon." Kate is downstairs on her computer, writing her plan and plot summary for Nanowrimo. All the kids will participate this year and it will probably take a huge chunk of our time each day.

2:15PM Blair wanders off to work on my computer, the only one with internet access. She is a forum administrator of a website for fans of a certain author's books. She also frequents a forum for young writers, and is quite active there, sharing lots of plot ideas and editing tips. Kate has gone with Rose to visit the new kittens in the neighborhood and bring a treat to the new mama cat. Christie works on her Nanowrimo plot on her computer downstairs. More laundry for me!

2:35PM Kate came home alone after dropping Rose off at her friend's. She wants to play on the Wii, and all her chores are done, so I consent. She likes to play Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon and Wii Sports, but will occasionally play Lego Star Wars or Spiderman. I gather up the contents of the hermit crab cage (but not the crabs themselves!) to wash and boil and return to their aquarium. Then sit to rest my knees with a cup of tea.

3:38PM John is home from school now, ready for a bite to eat before he goes off to work mowing lawns in the neighborhood. We've had such a horrible drought that his income was near zero all summer. But now that the autumn rains have started, there are a few jobs here and there and he's glad to have them! He saves his money to spend at the local magic store where he is learning tricks very quickly and making quite a name for himself. He has applied to be a demonstrator at the mall this holiday season for the shop. Blair is done online and gets to work filing. Kate's friends are also home from school, and she goes out to the backyard to jump on the trampoline and visit with them. Hubby pokes his head out to say he is going to shower now.

4:15PM Well, we had planned to go to the Fall Festival at church, but Rose has come down with a runny nose and looks pale. John says he'd rather not go anyway, and Christie didn't like the costume she worked out with Blair. So, we'll stay home and have a fun night in.

4:45PM I just walked in the door from Wal Mart. I picked up Meet The Robinsons, a movie we enjoyed this summer. We'll eat some Taco Bell, watch a movie and pop some popcorn later. Rose is looking a little worse and doesn't feel like moving from the couch. I made her a bed on the couch where she's comfy cozy. Christie asked me to teach her how to crochet, so I showed her how to make a slip knot and single crochet. That should keep her busy a long time.

6:15PM Dinner is over and cleaned up, we watched Jeopardy, which is one thing we do every single day as a family, and it's time to start our movie. I just did a quick check and one of my eBay auctions ending tonight is up over $500. Hello, Christmas Money!

7:30PM Taking a short break from the movie to pop the popcorn. Rose fell asleep on the couch during the movie, and I don't think I'll wake her to put her to bed. Christie is practicing her crocheting while she watches the movie, but now that there's popcorn she'll have to take a break!

8:30PM Movie over, popcorn gone and vacuumed up. The kids say their goodnights and go to their rooms to read, do schoolwork, talk or play quietly. We turn the computers off when the sun goes down, so that's not an option for them at night. But I hear some nice, quiet music playing and no arguing, which is really nice for a change! At 9:30 I'll holler down a "lights out" and head for bed myself, but for now, hubby wants to watch another movie.

11:17PM That's enough day for one day for me. I'm ready for bed. Oops - tomorrow is Christie's portrait, and I want to get to Wal Mart early to pick up candy and costumes at half price while they last. I'd better go make sure Christie's pretty dress is clean and pressed before I turn in. Good night!

No fair, they get COOKIES for breakfast!

I've always wanted to be the "cool mom on the block." You know, the one where all the kids hang out. My mother was that mom. When someone's kid ran away from home, they'd call our house and my mother would be sitting at the kitchen table with them, listening to their troubles over cookies and milk. I don't envy her, though, because it got harder to send them back home once the kids got to be teenagers!

In my childhood mind, I imagined the "cool mom on the block" as someone who always had freshly baked cookies laying around. Not just for dessert and snack, though - all the time, even at breakfast.

I found this great cookie recipe and tweaked it for my family. We had cookies for breakfast this morning and it was easy. I loved them! The ginger warmed me up from the inside, perfect for a cool morning! The kids, well, let's just say they are more fond of their cold cereal than the exotic idea of cookies at 7AM!

Here's my recipe:

Breakfast Ginger Cookies

The night before, mix in one bowl 1 cup of pastry flour, 1 1/2 cups rolled oats, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, pinch salt. Cover that and leave it on the counter. In another bowl, mix up 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, 1 egg, 2/3 cup milk, 1 tablespoon oil and 3 tablespoons cooking maple syrup. Cover that and leave it in the fridge overnight. Line your cookie sheet with parchment so it's all ready to go, and go to bed!

In the AM, preheat the oven to 375°. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until mixed. Drop the batter in 2-tablespoon-lumps onto a cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes. This batch made 1 dozen.

Snack today was a yummy dip with fresh-tasting basil. I didn't plan quite far enough in advance for this recipe. It would have been much better chilled until it thickened a little. But it's a grownup dish, unless your kids like green food.

Basil Satin Dip

Bring a pot of water about six inches deep to boil and toss in 10.5 ounces of reduced fat tofu. Take off the heat and let it sit there for two minutes, then pour off the water and sit the tofu on a couple paper towels to drain a little. (This blanching process takes a lot of the soy flavor out of the tofu.) Toss into a blender with a tablespoon of miso (I like light miso, but it's a flavor choice, try red, too), 2 teaspoons of tahini, 1 teaspoon of grainy mustard (I don't like the really hot stuff, but something along the lines of Grey Poupon is delicious) 1/4 cup fresh, washed and blotted dry basil leaves, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 clove garlic. Blend that until it's smooth and satiny. Ooh, with whole wheat crackers...Yum!

And, here I go again with the purple veggies. This was more interesting-looking than just weird though, it was more a two-tone dish, so the purple cauliflower didn't look quite so strange with the green broccoli. Hubby even ate this, which is high praise for a recipe containing a cruciferous veggie.

Broc and Cauli Salad

Cut a head of cauliflower and a pound of broccoli into florets. Peel and chop the stems of the broccoli. Steam for 7 or 8 minutes and drain. While it's steaming, finely mince a clove of garlic and a couple scallions. In a small pan on medium high heat, swirl a teaspoon of oil until fragrant. Add a teaspoon coriander, the garlic and scallions. Saute, stirring for 2 minutes or so until fragrant. The seeds might jump around a bit, and that's fine. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool down a bit before adding 2 teaspoon minced fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried) and 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt. Pat the veggies dry, add the dressing and toss. Chill for about an hour (or longer) to let the flavors marry.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stuffed Bell Peppers

I'm not normally a fan of stuffed peppers. We have corn allergies here, and polenta just never did anything for me. But tonight for dinner we had these lovely peppers:

I chose a mixture of red and yellow mostly because I could only find two red peppers that were fresh enough, and supplemented with yellow to make up the rest I needed.

Here's what I did:
I cored and seeded 4 large bell peppers and sliced them in half. I sliced from top to bottom so they'd be long and flat rather than across the "equator" because I thought that shape would be easier for the kids to handle. I parboiled the halves in boiling water for 3 minutes and drained them. I minced a garlic clove and let it "sit" open to air while I prepped more.

In a small saucepan, I mixed together 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth, 1 bay leaf and 1 cup couscous. That came to a boil and I turned it off while I chopped and dropped these in the pan: 1 grated carrot, 1/2 cup finely chopped arugula, 2 minced green onions, 8 chopped green olives, 1/4 cup salsa (I just love Muir Glen mild.) I stirred it all around and by now the couscous had soaked up all the broth, so I tossed out the bay leaf, mixed in the garlic and loaded up the pepper halves with this concoction. Last, I topped each pepper with a slice of mozzarella (because the kids will eat just about anything with cheese on it.)

Very simple, easy, and delicious! Once oldest daughter got over me "ruining" the peppers by cooking them, she even enjoyed them!

For my friend Shandy, or, When Homeschooling Fails

So, you want real, huh? Okay, how's this: I am a big family, Christian, homeschooling failure.

Now, before you giggle and shake your head and think I'm "down on myself," let's consider the evidence:

*Are all my children walking with the Lord? No.
*Are my children obedient? No. Some are more than others, but for the most obedient among them it's just lip service with bad attitude acted out in private.
*Are our days filled with learning adventures? No. Most days we barely get the minimum of chores done, and perhaps a little reading on the side. But it's not me reading aloud, it's them reading to themselves. Math? Sure, I'll take a look at what they've done and help them over a learning "hump" if they have one. Science? Look! Is that a cardinal? Science...check.
*Do we have daily devotions? No. You read that right, NO. Not every day. Not even most days.
*I haven't baked bread in months. Middle child will make it in the bread machine if she has to.
*Do we eat dinner together? No. Well, we are usually in the same house, but not even the same room, and most of the time the TV is on for the adults while the kids eat at the table.
*I've even had to give up my favorite saying, "Lord willing, none of these children will ever darken the door of a public school," since my next-to-oldest student decided I was not qualified to teach him anything and rejected my authority outright. Gee, here I thought that because the teachers want him in honors classes that that was proof I was doing okay. But no, son informs me, he is naturally genius and my teaching only held him back from becoming all he could have been.

Oh. Sorry 'bout that, chief.

My life looks nothing like the families in The Old Schoolhouse or The Teaching Home magazine. I've tried so hard to be that family, but through a combination of laziness, depression, circumstances, pain and sheer exhaustion, failed miserably. I can get up at 6AM and make breakfast about three days in a row before I crash and sleep in till 9. I can stay up till 11 with hubby watching the gunk on TV (99% of which I would really do better without) for about four nights before I crash and fall asleep in my chair at 7. And I can cook good, healthy, balanced meals for about six days in a row before I'm ready to eat McDonalds three times in a row just to avoid the injury factor.

I'm a hardhearted, selfish person who hates to admit to being wrong (and I am, a LOT) and has to have things done her way.

Honest enough for you?

But, there's hope for me.

Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

And some days that's all I have to hang onto.

Mmmmm Yummy Meals, Mommy!

I never claimed to be much of a cook. But I can read a mean recipe. I'm also a horrid klutz in the kitchen, burning or cutting myself during almost every meal preparation attempt. For these and financial reasons (do you think it's right that "real" foods - fresh fruits and veggies - are so much more expensive than overprocessed junk like boxed mac and cheese? I sure don't) I've been taking the slacker approach to meals lately. It's been fun, tossing something in the oven and walking away without searching for the first aid kit. But alas, our health is declining and waist size increasing, so it's once again time for some real food.

One of the keys to feeding our rather large crew on the smallest possible budget is frequent, small meals. That means, unfortunately, mom's in the kitchen every other day almost nonstop. But, that other day is easier.

Breakfast was a pretty good oven pancake. It was just a couple eggs, a dash of milk and a cup of flour (I mixed up a little pastry flour, a little regular flour and a pinch of flaxseed meal) tossed in the oven to puff for 20 minutes at 450°. This option is great because I don't have to stand over the stove and flip pancakes! We topped them with a syrup I made by putting fresh raspberries, frozen wild blueberries and a little apple juice in the blender. When I heated it up, it thickened just a little and was SO good.

While that was in the oven, I stirred together the muffins for morning snack. We had them with ginger tea at 10 when I got back from Walgreens (where I purchased gauze, medical tape, burn cream and bandaids, for the burns I received while making the stupid oven pancake.) Oh, they were so good!

Lunch was Mochi Soup and Potato Pie. Now, mochi is just rice starch, made from rice and water, nothing funky there. I didn't make the mochi myself, but bought a cake at the health food store and grated it into the soup. The soup got thick and yummy very quickly without the addition of milk. And I want to warn you: the Potato Pie looks very strange because I used purple potatoes! When I bought the potatoes, I didn't remember what I wanted to use them for, and got these cute little purple potatoes. They don't really "go" with the green of the dill and parsley, though, unless you're into green and purple. They didn't taste purple at all, just like regular potatoes!

While the soup was simmering happily and the Potato Pie was baking its little heart out, I toasted a cup almonds in a dry saute pan until they got really fragrant. I moved them off the heat and tossed in a few teaspoons of tamari soy sauce and minced fresh oregano. The kids can nibble on those for snack this afternoon when the munchies hit. Well, all except youngest who's allergic to almonds and middle who has braces, that is.

We aren't a family of soup eaters. It's taken me 17 years to get my oldest girl interested in anything liquid and warm (other than hot cocoa), but the kids all liked this Mochi Soup recipe and I sure like having veggies on the table at lunch rather than the PB & honey of late.

A note on ingredients: I use only freshly home-milled whole wheat flour, extra-virgin olive oil, grade B for cooking maple syrup and sea salt unless I say specifically otherwise in a recipe. Lemongrass is a wonderfully aromatic herb I find in the produce section at the store by the other fresh herbs. I like to snip it with scissors to use it in tea or cooking because it's a little too woody for my knives. As for veggies, frozen is better than canned if fresh is out of season. I don't like buying fresh veggies out of season because of the price and the negative impact I have heard they have on the environment and economy. We use cow's milk, mostly for cooking, because we have allergies to many other milk alternatives but we very rarely will just drink a glass of milk.

Here are my recipes:

Bran Muffins (makes 12)
Start out by making two cups of lemongrass tea. Combine 3/4C all bran cereal, 1/2C rolled oats, 1C brewed lemongrass tea and 1/2C milk. Let that sit for a minute to soften up while you grate a one-inch knob of ginger onto a piece of cheesecloth. Now, to the cereal, add 1C pastry flour 1t baking powder and 1t baking soda. In another small bowl, combine 2T oil and 1/4C maple syrup. Take the ginger and twist the cheesecloth around and around and around, and squeeze the juice into the small bowl. Toss the ginger pulp. Stir the liquids in the small bowl well then pour over the bran mixture. Add 1/2C chopped dates, 1/2C grated carrot, 1t minced lemongrass. Bake for 20 minutes at 400°. Oh, that other cup of lemongrass tea? Drink it with a tiny drizzle of honey while you wait for the muffins to cook.

Mochi Soup (made enough to feed 8 of us)
In a 3 quart pot, combine 8C vegetable stock, 1C corn kernels, 1C green beans cut into one-inch lengths, 2 minced shallots and bring it all to a nice, rolling boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover loosely and simmer 15 minutes. Grate in 6 mochi cakes and simmer another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. I served this with a sprinkling of fresh dill on top.

Dilly Potato Pie (made about 8 half-cup servings)
Start out by mincing a clove of garlic. Let it sit out in the air until you need it. (It increases the health benefits to let garlic air a bit.) Clean your potatoes, either scrubbing or peeling (I'm a scrubber, myself.) Cut them into 2-inch chunks and steam them until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Take a masher to them and pulverize them to your preferred level of mash. Chop half a small onion (we're not big onion eaters) and add that and the garlic to the potatoes. Chop up 1 1/2C watercress, 1/4C parsley (I like Italian, but curly works too), 1T fresh dill and toss those in with the potatoes. Stir together 3 eggs, 1/4C milk, 2t oil and a pinch of salt, and add to potatoes. Now plop those ole taters in a casserole dish (2 quart worked for me) and bake it for 30 minutes at 350°. I served these with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. My kids will eat darned near anything covered in Parmesan.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Great Seasonal Clothes Swap

Oh, how the kids LOVE the Great Swap. It's like Christmas! Of course, it's a full-day event, with the organization before and laundry after, and the fashion show all during. It takes place twice a year, all over the whole house! Each child has their own "dressing room" and sorts in there, modeling the clothes they try on with great flourish (for my inspection and their sisters' oooohs and aaaaahhhs).

Having four girls but only one boy, my son is usually exempt from the Great Swap. He always wears the same thing - T shirts and jeans - no matter what the weather. He adds a hoodie in spring and fall and a jacket in the winter (although we haven't needed our jackets since moving to the south at ALL.) And at school he wears a uniform, making his entire wardrobing a very simple process.

The night before the Great Swap, I do ALL the kids' laundry and they wear something to bed that they will keep for the next season. We empty out closets and post "area cards" in the dressing rooms. Area cards say things like "I can wear these," "These are too small, "These are too big," "Yuck," "Try these on," "For my closet," etc. When I had pre-readers, I'd make drawings on the cards so they could do most of the sorting themselves.

Each child here has two totes. One "NOW," one "SOON." "NOW" is full of clothes they can wear now, (yes, a wordsmith I am with the labelmaker,) the right size regardless of season. "SOON" is full of clothes that will be the right size for them eventually. The only things they may keep in their totes are the clothes they truly love. If big sister passes down something little sister doesn't like, she passes it down and down and down until someone grabs it. If no one grabs it, it goes to Goodwill.

The morning of the Great Swap, I put the contents of the "NOW" boxes in the "Try these on" and the clean laundry and clothes from their closets in the "For my closet" area in each dressing room. The same one-in-one-out rule applies to our totes as does to our closets. If you grab something new, something old goes. In their closet, the girls each have room for five play outfits, one church outfit, one extra-grungy and two PJs. Everything else goes in the totes. The totes' lids have to snap shut. All excess goes to Goodwill.

When this season's outfits are chosen, I add dots to the labels to identify the owner. Oldest girl=1 dot, son=2 dots, next oldest=3 dots and down the list. Then all that's left is wash and hang it all!

We're particularly blessed that the garage where the totes live is one door from the girls' basement bedroom! They are NOT allowed to get into the totes unsupervised, but if something rips or becomes unwearable, getting out a new outfit doesn't require a trip to the attic or worse.

Although I would dearly love to live in a place where the Grand Seasonal Clothing Swap is done on Memorial and Labor Day weekends, it never quite turns out that way. Here it is, the end of September, and our weather is still in the 90's. As I pass the totes in the garage, I lovingly look at all the "SOON" labels staring at me and thinking, "Yes, please!"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Escherichia coli

I was shocked, amazed, stunned (and kinda grossed out) when I discovered that my sweet mother-in-law had contracted a case of E. coli while traveling earlier this year. She had symptoms for more than three months, but her regular physician had been unable to determine the cause of her digestive problems, exhaustion and other telltale signs.

But even more disturbing is the misinformation I've encountered since. Amazing how little people know, even people who should know, about this particular bacteria. So, consider this my attempt to educate if you care. Ignore me if you don't care, I'm getting used to it.

E. coli lives in your lower intestines. Mine, too. Everyone's, and most mammalian animals', too. It's not a big, bad bug at all, but helps us digest our food and create vitamin K, which is essential to proper blood clotting.

Not all strains of E. coli cause illness. There are a few that cause food poisoning symptoms, which are usually contracted from eating unwashed produce or contaminated meat. One strain can even cause life threatening complications. That is the strain that showed up in the great spinach panic of 2006 that had us all leery of bagged salads. But did you know that same strain has been found in house flies and fruit flies?

E. coli isn't common as an airborne bacteria except at some farms and petting zoos. So, you can kiss the kids when you have it, and they won't get sick, unless you have the bacteria on your lips at the time.

Since the bacteria likes the warm, dark, moist intestine and dies out when exposed to extremes of temperature and dryness, most cases of E. coli poisoning come from eating food which has been contaminated by infected feces. No delicate way to put it, folks, if you're going to eat produce, wash it first, and if it's meat, be sure it's cooked thoroughly. E. coli does grow at refrigerator temperatures, but reheating refrigerated food kills off live bacteria making it safe once again.

Treatment of E. coli that persists more than two weeks involves antibiotics appropriate to the particular strain of bacteria causing the problem. Unfortunately, penicillin and cephalosporin are almost useless against E. coli poisoning, because of their overuse. E. coli are quickly becoming antibiotic resistant, and in an August, 2007 article in Science, adaptative mutations are increasing at a much higher rate than previously thought. Research is being conducted in the UK on a "superbug" E. coli that is resistant to all but a handful of antibiotics.

An interesting note for us treat-it-with-whole-foods types: There is some evidence that the tannins in cranberries actually change the shape of the bacteria, the cell membrane and the attaching ability of the bacteria, making it more difficult for the bacteria to multiply and make us sick. No, not the yummy mostly sugar cran-drinks, but real, tart, cranberries and undiluted juice. Now, that's a good mutation!

Some good ways to avoid getting ill:

1) Wash your hands. 15-20 seconds in hot water. Regular soap works just as well as antibacterial soaps and might help slow the antibiotic resistant mutations we are currently seeing. After you wash your hands in a public restroom, use a paper towel to touch surfaces until you are free of the restroom. This includes faucet and door handles.

2) Ordering food well done is a good first step, but if a restaurant worker then touches your cooked food with dirty hands, the doneness of your steak won't matter. Only eat where you trust.

3) If you MUST fly on an airplane, hit all hard surfaces around your seat with an alcohol wipe as soon as you get on board. If you can, avoid using the restroom on a plane.

4) Heated public pools and spas. Don't. Just don't.

5) When going to a movie, get there early and wipe down the hard surfaces of the seat, and armrest with an alcohol wipe. Let's think this through for a minute. You're out shopping and hubby feels tired, so you take a break in the theatre. While there, he runs to the restroom with a digestive upset. But, he doesn't want to miss too much of the movie, so he doesn't wash up as thoroughly as he should. How often do you think the ushers clean those armrests? If you said "never", you are right.

6) Homeschool. No fooling. It's a good way to keep your family healthy! Not only are your children getting more exercise, fresh air and sunshine, but they aren't exposed as often to ill kids in close quarters. You can better help them make good nutrition choices and teach proper handwashing technique at home, too.

7) Stay away from doctors. Well, okay, maybe not entirely. But at least be extra-vigilant about washing while you are there and after you leave. And gently remind the doctors and nurses to wash before touching you!

Some signs of E. coli toxicity include: urinary tract infection (especially in women and the elderly), flatulence, non-bloody diarrhea, and possibly a slight fever. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all. Most cases resolve without antibiotics after 5-10 days. If you have symptoms for longer than this time, a simple test can rule out E. coli. In some individuals, such as the very young, old or immunocompromised, E. coli can cause a syndrome that includes kidney failure.

Okay, I'm climbing down from the soapbox now. And I'm gonna go wash my hands.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


It makes me crazy when I'm reading along, once a day, every day, then suddenly my blogger STOPS. Without warning, the author will suddenly disappear for a week, sometimes two. What could be more important than blogging? Was s/he abducted to Mars? Is there crime afoot? Don't you love me anymore?

In my case, something far less (?) sinister was brewing. My beloved G4 Mac had a nervous breakdown. Something about all the Plant Tycoon I've been playing lately, no doubt. Fresh out of warranty, the logic board decides to go south. But then, if it's broken, perhaps it chose to go north. No, if it's logic-less it WOULD go south. Pardon. Aaaaaaaaaanyway, we picked up a new, warrantied G5. Whew. Blazin' fast. And even skinnier than the G4, larger screen, smaller (and quieter) keyboard, BOY do my Fabled Reptans look gorgeous on this thing!

I've been making do with hubby's PC laptop he brings home from work each day, but that thing is stupid. Everything takes forever, the commands are senseless, and the wording of things is SO 1990 (run? Run? There's a command called RUN? What IS this, DOS!??)

Back in the 80's I was a software techie type, teaching people how to work DOS and a buggy little program called NOMAD. But that was stone knives and bearskins. I used to look down my nose at people who had those new Macintosh things because everything was behind an icon curtain and they couldn't tell the computer what to do and get it done. Well, the shoe is on the other foot now. (The boot disk is in the other drive now? Hm. I need new lingo.) PCs are stupid, requiring far too much hands-on by the user. You want to open this program. Are you SURE? Okay, how do you want me to open it? Do you want me to keep it somewhere? Where? No, you can't put it there, try again. Nope, try again. Okay, there is okay, but...Please!! With the Mac, I drop a doc on my desktop and double click it. It opens. I drop an app in my hard drive and it files itself.

And the wireless capability of that notebook was a joke. For pity sake, I run a Wifi in my house, and the Wii 50 yards away has no trouble reading it. My little Nintendo DS Lite has no trouble 75 yards away in the back yard! But this PC, sitting less than a foot away from the router would drop its connection over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and, you get it.

So, I'm back. My frustration level is beginning to drop, I'm able to get to my online life again without threatening to toss a computer out the window, and life is good. (Eternal life is better.)

Tomorrow I'll write something about a health crisis in our extended family: E. coli.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Wounded Animal Syndrome

Teenaged son was doing fair to middlin' on his attitude today. That is, until he was working in the yard cutting back some decorative grass. He sliced almost the whole fat pad off his left middle fingertip. He came in bleeding, moaning, screaming, yelling and me!

Of course, it was my fault. Everything always is with him, I'm getting used to it. But this time he was aggressively angry to the point of hysteria. I call it Wounded Animal Syndrome. You know, like the stories of normally peaceful animals who go berserk when they are injured and attack people? The boy is far from peaceful, but being human, I tend to attribute a bit more logic and reason to him than a wild animal.

Whoa. Not so today.

Once we got it bandaged, stopped the bleeding and got an Advil in him to help with the pain, he seemed to calm down quite a bit. What really helped, though, was me doing his chores for the rest of the day, and letting him watch a movie.

But we will be using this experience (sooner rather than later so it's fresh in his memory) to show him another reason he's just not ready to drive. Imagine you and this child touch bumpers at a red light and he bangs his jaw on the steering wheel. You do not want to engage him after such an incident. The police arriving at a scene like that would not react well, neither would the traffic court judge when the matter is brought before him.

I know he's anxious to get behind the wheel. I know the imaginary freedom a driver's license represents and the fearsome responsibility it actually holds. And this is my promise to you, dear reader, that I will do everything in my power to make sure my offspring are emotionally stable and trained before turning them loose on the highways of our nation.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Holy Forgiveness, Batman!

Boy, do I feel stupid. I just came off that emotionally satisfying rant yesterday and sat down to blog another one (my precious, sweet husband of 25 years still has not a single clue what is important to me) but hopped over to read Because I Said So, one of my top 5 favorite bloggers. She totally ruined my desire to rant!

So, now I'm left with blogging about my cavies again. Sorry.

There's a woman who lives 20 miles from me whose house burned down this week. She was able to get all her animals out in time, but has to rehome 13 guinea pigs including several just-weaned babies. I am considering this very seriously. Now that the girls have a larger cage and room to play, another one or two might be a good idea. In the wild, cavies are herd animals, living in large social groups. No way could I take all 13, or even 4, but I would dearly love a couple babies. So would the kids!

We just have to get the idea to Mr. Thinkaboutitforamonth -- oops, I mean, my dear, sweet husband.

Friday, September 28, 2007

This Wife's Hardest Job

Teenage son has the next two weeks off from school. He's on this dumb 9-weeks-on-2-weeks-off schedule to ease the overcrowding of our local high school. Knowing full well that a bored teenage boy is scarier than Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy put together, I sent hubby an email at work, printed off a copy and put it in his home inbox as well. I told him dates and times of this "intersession" and suggested he think about constructive projects to occupy the boy's time. He agreed and said he'd work on it.

Well, here it is. Tomorrow is day one. Son is already sitting around shuffling a Rubik's Cube and asking why didn't I get to the store today to buy him some treats. Just so happens hubby took today off from work, so I sent him to go talk to hubby. Hubby comes to me and wants to know why I sent son to him.

"Remember the email I sent you? His two week vacation has started and he needs the list so he won't be bored making us crazy."

"What vacation?"

"The two-week intersession. Remember? 9-weeks-on-2-weeks-off no school for the next two weeks? I sent you an email and you said you'd help me come up with some ideas to keep him busy and out of trouble? It's now."

"Nah. Don't remember a thing about it."

"I can work on a list if you'd like."

"No, I can do it. But you should have said something before this."

The hardest job this wife has is shutting up. Every fiber of my being wants to march him into his home inbox, have him get out the note and read it. I know he saw it when I put it in there because he mentioned it to me that night. I know it's still there because every day I put his mail right on top of it. Which means that every day when he opens his mail, he knows he has reached the end of today's mail because there is the note from his wife. It all goes back to being ignored.

Lord, grant me the peace to not throw the toaster at dear hubby.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It came out of nowhere, officer!

Hubby was blindsided this morning. He's fine, there isn't even any damage to the car, because the collision was an emotional one.

Not that he shouldn't have seen it coming. He does this every year, so this year I tried to prepare him.

"Honey, the kids and I had so much fun today! There are 123 days left until Christmas and we sang Jingle Bells at 1:23!"

"Honey, we had another party today - there are 111 days until Christmas and we sang Silent Night at 1:11!"

"Hm. Honey, I can't think of anything other than a huge, long paper chain to help us count down to Christmas. It's only 100 days away now, you know."

All of these were greeted with various "hm"s and "uh huh"s and shoulder shrugs.

This morning, one of the littler children came bounding into the living room, all excitedly saying, "Only 89 days till Christmas, Daddy! Isn't it wonderful!?"

You'd think the poor man was in the midst of a massive coronary. His face went white, his jaw dropped and he gasped for air. I asked what the big deal was, it's been coming for a while now.

"But, it's so close!"

Did I mention that I'm invisible?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

It's the big day

My son is having his root canal today. Oh boy, oh boy. I'm hopin' and prayin' that he doesn't have my tendency toward nerve overgrowth!

When I was pregnant with oldest daughter, one of my old metal fillings cracked and took the tooth with it. The root canal wasn't awful, mostly just hours of sitting with my mouth open, but that's just like watching TV (how DO they think up such terrible commercials?) so no big deal. But, in excavating the root, the dentist found - not two, not three, but seven nerves supplying this one tooth! I think he might have even missed one, because the tooth is still sensitive to cold and sweet.

Now, this nerve overgrowth would explain so much. Regular dental cleanings have always hurt my teeth and the dentists always thought I was just being a wimp. I've given birth to six kids, how wimpy can I be?? Hm? We own a Sonicare toothbrush, but I can only stand to use it a couple times a week because it makes my teeth too sensitive to chew with. The Sonicare Diet. Nah, I can smell the lawyers ponying up already.

Of course, if the poor boy had my nerve overgrowth, at least one of the thirteen cavities he is nurturing would start hollering at him, right? Well, we shall see. It promises to be an interesting afternoon.

The Not-so-big C

Mom had her lumpectomy yesterday and all went very, very well. The lymph nodes weren't involved at all and they were able to remove all the tumor. After having some time to think about my initial response, I wonder if I was reacting out of fear and shock.

The original doctor she saw wanted to just do a radical mastectomy with big, old fashioned radiation and get it over with. My wonderful, intelligent, calm sister arranged for a second opinion. The second doctor was able to do a tiny lumpectomy, grab a couple lymph nodes and stitch her up. Mom sees the oncologist in a day or two to discuss having a balloon inserted in the incision area with some radioactive "seeds" to do the dosing instead of the old fashioned radiation therapy method. She'll have to be on estrogen and progesterone inhibitors for five years, but the kind of cancer she has responds well to that kind of treatment.

Now THAT is a prognosis I think I could live with. I'm not altogether sure it's worth dosing my breasts with radiation yearly, but it's not the death sentence they would regularly hand out to cancer victims when I was a child.

In researching risk factors, I found that my mom's tendency might have been artificially inflated. She had a total hysterectomy in the 1970s and has been on estrogen ever since. That will inflate your odds considerably! So, me in denial says, "Blame this whole fiasco on the doctors who've had her on estrogen for 30 years even after her aunt had a double radical at age 80! It has nothing to do with your genes!" Hm. I'll have to write more as my thinking progresses on this. I'm not sure I've reached the final, end-all iteration of my thinking.

Friday, September 21, 2007


It's been a real fiasco here this summer. Turns out several of our children have forgotten how to brush their teeth! Now, that the 7-year old has a cavity, I'm not surprised. That the 10-year old has a cavity worthy of a root canal disturbs me (it was a baby tooth though, so we pulled it.) But that my 15-year old son has 13 - THIRTEEN - cavities, that's a real blow to the parenting job I thought I was doing.

Now, to be fair, in his defense, I concede that he has what is called "porous enamel" and with the move and getting resettled, I didn't exactly run to the dentist for sealants as often as I should.

But, knowing he has this porous enamel, and in my own defense, I have purchased, instructed in the use of, reminded and nagged concerning the use of floss, the toothpaste of his choice, a pre- and post-brushing rinse and a fancy sonic toothbrush that does all but sing the national anthem to him.

If even two - pick two, any two - of these had been faithfully used, I submit the damage would not have been as extensive. Now, partway through drilling, the dentist informs me that at least one of his teeth will require a root canal.

I'm pretty much over my anger, but can't quite see my way to laugh about it yet. I am seriously considering telling all the relatives to purchase tooth care items and gift certificates to the dentist for Christmas this year, though. After insurance we'll be in debt to the dentist more than $2000. While that includes cleanings, my oldest's wisdom teeth removal and various fillings, it doesn't include root canals, braces or anesthesia for the poor boy who just can't sit still in the chair. My mother said, "Have the dentist just skip the novocaine!" Yeah, sure, except the dentist didn't do anything wrong, why should he be punished? So much for a commuter car this year.

So, open wide and say AHHHH, or is it ARGH!?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Us girls gotta watch our figures!

Cavies' physiology is very similar to humans, that's why they are used in medical experimentation. That also means we suffer similar rates and causes of diabetes and heart disease. Part of the puzzle in preventing those illnesses is exercise, and another part diet. Now, my girls eat well. They eat more hay than anything else, which is just what they need. They only drink dechlorinated, flouride-free filtered water. Organic, freshly-washed and rinsed, dark leafy greens are the fresh food in their daily diet, plus treats of low-sugar veggies and very, very, occasionally a nibble of fruit. We even grow a garden for them, with wheatgrass, clover and lemon balm, an herb that helps Ash deal with her grouchies. Because they are caged, I can control their diet.

But, because they are caged, they get less exercise than if they were "free range" cavies. Those little hamster balls are very bad for guinea pigs and can cause permanent spinal injury and death, so that option is most definitely out. I can't force them to exercise, but in an effort to encourage it, I have designed the girls a figure-friendly cage.

The whole thing is made from those snap-together grid and connector things. I used the snap connectors to maintain even distances between the grids, but I also used plastic zip ties from the hardware store because those little connectors can fall off and make the whole thing very unstable.

The first story is three grids wide by four grids long and has lots of hiding places, room to be separate, play or snooze. The front left grid is a "door," attached with zip ties at the bottom and grid connectors at the top. We can swing the door down and invite cavies out for a snuggle if they want. This reduces their anxiety about being chased around and picked up when they don't want to be.

Each ramp was made by bending grid squares in half and attaching them to the sides of the enclosure with zip connectors. The second story is one by three grids and each ramp is two grids long, providing a gentle enough angle for easy climbing.

Now, it's not good for tender little cavy feet to be walking around on cage floors or grids, so inside both stories and the ramps is a piece of folded coroplast. Coroplast is corrugated plastic used for making signs. I bought my coroplast from a sign making shop. But, coroplast is pretty slippery if you have long nails, so I made a little blanket carpet.

I used waterproof mattress pads sewn to leftover pieces of colorful fleece for the "carpet." I left one edge unsewn from each piece so any dust or hay that gets between the layers can be shaken out. The bottom floor will eventually be one large piece and the second story and ramps will be a second piece all sewn together. Since this photo was taken I've already made an improvement: I added ties to the sides of the "carpet" to tie on the outside of the grids, much like a crib bumper would, just to stabilize the flooring a little more even during the girls' most rambunctious run.

As for the exercise encouragement? While the girls' favorite toys, snuggle spots and water bottle are on the bottom floor, the top floor is where the food is! Their hay, daily greens and occasional treats are all served "upstairs." No matter how lazy they are feeling, if they want food, they gotta go up, and if they want water, they gotta go back down.

Twice a day, usually around 7AM and 7PM, the girls zoom up and down the ramps and around the second story so fast they are almost a blur! The hay basket (made from a bent grid square) hangs over their potty corner (yes, one is potty trained, and the other isn't), and since cavies usually poop and pee where they eat, I rarely have to stand on my head to sweep up beans (beans are what we cavy slaves call the poops because they are hard and small, much like dried beans.)

The cavies live in my schoolroom/office, and have a very small space for themselves. Making the most of the available space, simplifying cleaning as much as possible and providing a healthy environment were the motivating factors in my design.
It took me a long time to think this through, and I'm very proud of it!

I love this guy.

Breakfast of Champions.

Surely you remember Ken. Betcha don't remember him in crumpled jammies with bedhead. I'll tell you, this photo is enough to get any trivia-lovin' nerdy chick's heart a-thumpin'!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

That's not true, Mr. Spock, they give us love!

I have two wonderful cavies (guinea pigs.) Watching them interact is just like watching children. Ash is only a few months older than Ginny, but she's clearly in charge. She can also be a bit of a bully. Ginny is quite at her mercy, but is also very creative, intelligent and nurturing of Ash.

When Ash is in heat, she becomes even more ornery. One day, close to feeding time, Ash chased Ginny into the pigloo, then moved toys in front of the entrance, locking her in. I suppose she thought that she'd get the dinner all to herself that night. But Ginny, in her calm, thoughtful manner, waited for the familiar crinkle of lettuce wrap, lifted the pigloo with her nose, crawled out from under it and joined Ash at the supper bowl.

Come a thunderclap, Ash runs to find her protector, Ginny. It's so funny to see Ash, almost 1/3 larger than Gin, nosing her way under Ginny's tummy to hide like a baby would hide beneath her mother.

And, just like a moody teenager, Ash will sometimes lash out and nip a finger for no apparent reason. Getting offended and thinking "She's upset at me. What did I do?" makes about as much sense as asking her to explain herself. Sometimes you just have to forgive and move on.

I think there's a lesson for me there. I have one child that the more he is spoken to, whether in correction or humor, becomes more and more belligerent. He has a tendency to lash out with whatever words he knows will hurt the most. He hates me. I'm a terrible parent, teacher, human being. But he can't explain what the problem is specifically. I have done nothing to offend him other than to speak to him. So, I just have to forgive and move on. Not easy.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Why At The Rope's End?

I have often thought about my life, here at the end of my rope. It's a good place to be, really, at the end of myself. A place so lifeless that either the Lord shows up or my heart ceases to beat.

My heart is still beating.

At the end of my rope is a frayed knot. It started rough, many pieces of jute twisted together and tied to prevent unraveling. Over years, the sweat from my hands clinging to it has changed it to a nearly solid ball. The end is fraying, but the knot is sturdy. At first, it cut into my hands, leaving blisters and sore spots as I struggled to maintain. But, while it has become smoother, my hands have become tougher. There is little struggling now, just hanging on while I wait for the Lord to show up.

That frayed knot also my answer to a lot of the little nagging questions that hound my days.

"Fallen off the end of your rope yet?"
'Fraid not.

"Ready to give up the good fight and just quit trying to find reasons to live one more day?"
'Fraid not.

"Aren't you scared by the thought of how you will make it through the troubles you're going through right now?"
'Fraid? NOT!

So, I swing on the end of my rope, hanging onto the promises of the Lord by this frayed knot.

A place to speak

I confess. I have blogged before. I have started accounts on several other sites, only to abandon them weeks or months later. But, in defense of myself, those other sites were generally geared toward a certain kind of audience. Women with children, homeschooling families, Christian couples, etc. I felt like I had to temper my thoughts - to put them through a filter, if you will - to make them palatable for the intended audience.

I need a place where I can speak what's in my heart without filter or fear. I need a place where my friends can find me being me.

More and more these days, I find myself being marginalized by my family. Not the work I do - the laundry, the cooking, the teaching and kissing of boo boos - but the words I speak. Appointments are missed, opportunities lost, lessons not learned, all because Mom is being ignored yet again. I realize it's a fantasy, but a blog gives me the illusion that I am being heard. Someone out there is listening.

My words are who I am. When my words are ignored, I cease to be a living, contributing human being and become merely a functioning body taking up space. I don't want to be merely a body taking up space. So, here are my words.

The Big C

My mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Well, there it is. I've said it.

Her doctor wanted her to make sure her daughters get regular mammograms, now that there is an immediate family history.

Hm. I hadn't planned on ever having one. I've never had a single risk factor, and I don't think I see the point. I mean, what if they DO find something? What would I do with the information? Am I willing to even consider poisoning my body with radiation and chemotherapy?

Right now I'm at the point that I gotta die of something and I don't particularly care what, all roads lead to Jesus, some more quickly than others.

I'm a believer in providential healing, but know that the Lord chooses to heal sometimes and not others for reasons only He knows. So, if I get the Big C, and He chooses not to heal me, I go to heaven. If He chooses to heal me, I stay here and go to heaven later. In the end, does it really matter, REALLY, what I die of? If He wants me here, won't He keep me here? If He wants me home, won't He bring me home? Why borrow trouble going to look for reasons to bring in the big medical guns and shoot myself in the foot to death? I am beginning to kind of feel that way about all diagnostic testing anymore.

It's kind of related to how I feel about prenatal testing. They wanted to do an amnio on my oldest daughter before she was born. They swore up and down she was going to have spinal bifida. Oh, the agony of those days when I had to decide what to do. Turns out she was fine, and all that faithless angst was for nothing. All my kids got a high score on that test, until with my next-to-last baby I started declining tests. If the Lord wanted me to have a special needs kid, I'd have one, and if He didn't want me to, I wouldn't. I certainly wouldn't abort if my child was less than perfect. But, that is a fallacious argument, because in one case we are talking about (possibly) prolonging a life and in the other ending it.

Ecclesiastes 2:14 puts it this way: The wise man has eyes in his head,
while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
that the same fate overtakes them both.

One woman suffers through cancer, the other suffers through its treatment, both die in the same plane crash a week later. It's all meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

(This post was summarized from an email conversation I had with my dearest friend, who was an immense help in crystallizing my thoughts. Thanks, Shandy.)